Planthoppers are insects in the “true bug” order Hemiptera. They have their own superfamily, Fulgoroidea.
Planthoppers feed on plant sap which is high in sugar. Many sap-sucking insects remove any excess sugar from their bodies in the form of sticky droplets called honeydew. Planthoppers have taken this a step further and instead secrete the excess sugar as wax. This is used to their advantage in the form of waxy ‘tails’.
Nymph planthoppers can have a wide variety of waxy tails depending on the species. They can be used for different purposes:
- Feather-like tails are used to slow down their flight when falling
- Pipe-cleaner-like, stringy tails are used to cover their body and keep water off (the wax is hydrophobic)
- Antenna-like tails are predominantly used to distract predators. Having antenna-like tails can trick predators into thinking their head is on that end, and the planthopper can then hop away in the opposite direction. Some will even walk backwards to add to the deception